The first time I heard about the Way to St James Cygnet was in 2015. I was starting to plan my first Camino in Spain and discovered that there was a two-day pilgrimage through the beautiful Huon Valley which ended at the Church of St James in Cygnet, a church built in the Spanish style. I thought this would be perfect preparation and training for my Camino.
This Tassie Camino is the inspiration of Fr Michael Tate, a priest who was posted to Cygnet, Tasmania, the southernmost parish in Australia. He saw many similarities between the Spanish Camino and where he lived: the landscape of the Huon Valley looks very similar to the rivers, hills and vineyards pilgrims see as they walk across Spain. The final destination, the Church of St James (Sant Iago) was built in a Spanish style, just as the final destination for the Camino in Spain is in the Cathedral at the tomb of St James.
Because of these similarities, he decided to create the Tassie pilgrimage, incorporating aspects of the Camino de Santiago. Each pilgrim receives a pilgrim passport with specially designed stamps, just as pilgrims do on the Camino in Spain. Pilgrims are given a scallop shell, as well as a pebble which is carried for the journey, as with the Camino in Spain, and it is placed at the foot of an icon of St James at the end of the journey as a part of the closing ritual, held in the Church of St James in Cygnet, which includes a special pilgrim blessing, complete with incense and a small botafumeiro.
The Tassie Camino is a 30k walk over two days. In its first year, close to 200 pilgrims participated, including myself. I loved this pilgrimage so much I joined the committee and have been a part of it ever since!
Some photos encapsulating The Way to St James Global Camino…
In late 2020, The Way to St James Pilgrimage Committee reluctantly decided not to proceed with our usual pilgrimage in Tasmania in January 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. We decided to try something different so we developed a virtual or Global Camino, “a global response to the global pandemic”, where we invited pilgrims from across the world to “Walk with us where they lived” on a particular weekend in January. We created a Facebook event where pilgrims could participate and walk together in solidarity and peace, connecting with nature and the spiritual dimensions of their life. We livestreamed the Opening Ritual and Blessing of Pilgrims and scallop shells from Mountain River, the site of the start of our Tasmania pilgrimage, as well as the Closing Ritual in the Church of St James in Cygnet, complete with the small incense burner (botafumeiro).
The Way to St James Virtual Pilgrimage was very successful with over 360+ participants taking part all around the world. From South Africa to Sweden, Tasmania to Canada and the USA to the UK, and everywhere in between, pilgrims walked in sunshine, clouds, snow and rain, braving extreme heat or sub-zero temperatures. They walked in forests, on mountains, through cities and suburbs, by rivers and highways – all united in peace and solidarity, walking as one Camino family across the globe. Many pilgrims were in lockdown in their particular countries during this time, so they walked locally in their streets and parks, and shared their photos on our Facebook event page. A number of pilgrims walked to their local St James churches and all carried scallop shells and pebbles as they would if they were doing the real Camino.
The success of this inaugural Global Camino was all due to our pilgrim friends from across the world, who accepted the invitation to join us. They generously shared their photos, stories, reflections and memories and they supported each other with positive comments and messages of encouragement.
At the end of the pilgrimage, pilgrims were able to download and print their own pilgrim passport and certificate as a memento of this pilgrimage. We received many positive comments about this first global event. www.waytostjames.com.au/virtual-camino
In 2021, our Way to St James Committee worked very hard to be ready to once again host our actual pilgrimage in Tasmania in January 2022, alongside our second Global Camino. Unfortunately, in November last year, we had to once again make the difficult decision to cancel our Tasmanian Pilgrimage due to the risks associated with the pandemic and the opening of the state borders.
We decided to focus purely on our Global Camino again for January 2022. As a way of promoting the Facebook event, I joined a large number of different Camino Facebook groups across the world. We were so overwhelmed to have over 1600 pilgrims from over 30 countries on five continents interested in participating!
From Iceland in the north to South Africa in the south, in Australia and New Zealand, across Europe and the UK to South America, hundreds of pilgrims from across the world walked together in unity, peace and solidarity. From -30c in Canada to 30+c in WA and QLD, our brave pilgrims walked in snow, sunshine and rain, and shared stunning photos of beautiful landscapes and local wildlife.
We also added a new dimension this year by organising a couple of live crosses to pilgrims who were walking on the actual Camino de Santiago in Spain. We spoke live in real time with my friend Jose who lives in Pamplona and who ran up to the Alto del Perdon, one of the iconic places at the start of the Camino Francés. Even though it was -4 degrees, the sun was shining and Jose happily spoke with us and shared some great stories and advice for our pilgrims.
I believe that our Way to St James Global Camino is the only event of its kind, uniting pilgrims across the world! The key to the success of this event is the great love of the Camino held by so many pilgrims and their desire to keep the Camino spirit alive in their lives. Some Global Pilgrims have shared that their participation in this event has inspired them to either do their first Camino or return to complete another pilgrimage in Spain. As well as meeting lots of new pilgrims from across the world, one of the best parts of this event for me personally was the opportunity to walk once again with my Camino family whom I met on the Camino Francés in 2018. Even though we were not walking next to each other in person, I still felt very connected to them, knowing we were walking at the same time and for the same purpose.
The Way to St James Cygnet Committee hope to continue this event for many years to come, and we hope that many more pilgrims will join us and walk with us where they live on the weekend of the 14-15January2023, inviting their Camino family to walk with them wherever they live in the world.